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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones ...

09/23/11 10:19:42

Sep23

R Pesach Siegel

Parshas Nitzavim 5771

 

The parshah begins with the words, “Ve’atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem” – And you are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your G-d.

 

Moshe Rabeinu utters these words as a form of comfort.

 

In the previous parshah, the Bnei Yisroel were horrified while they had 98 curses cast upon their heads. Their faces turned a green pallor, and they declared, “Who is capable of surviving these curses?”

 

Moshe assuages their sense of imminent doom, as he tells them, “You have caused G-d to come to anger many times in the past. You survived. You are still standing today before him.”

 

This is difficult to “digest”. Hashem fully intends to curse any and all who violate His covenant. He meant each and every one of the 98 curses. How is it that Moshe Rabeinu seeks to mitigate the effect of the portended curses? It is almost as if he is informing them, “Hashem doesn’t really intend to do as He says. Your survival until now is evidence of this.” These are not the words of a loyal servant. What did Moshe Rabeinu mean?

 

My rebbe, Rav Chaim Stein, z”l, hareini kapparas mishkavo, explained.

 

The Medrash relates. There once was a king. He had a wayward son. Who just wouldn’t follow rules and couldn’t be disciplined. He spent his days and nights in all sorts of evil places. The king’s warnings and pleadings fell upon deaf ears.

 

Finally, the king brought his son before a boulder. The boulder was huge. It dwarfed them in its immensity. The nobility of the kingdom were assembled there. In front of all he addressed his son, “You have ignored all my warnings. I can’t allow you to continue following this destructive path. Gaze upon the boulder that is before you. I swear that if you don’t embark upon a new path, I will have that boulder thrown upon you.”

 

Although visibly impressed, the son paid no heed to his father’s warning. When word of his failings reached his father, that day of reckoning was upon him. For the second time he was brought before the boulder, his imminent demise was upon him.

 

At the last moment, workmen appear with hammers and chisels. They make short work of the boulder. In no time it was reduced to a huge pile of pebbles.

 

They then proceeded to pelt the king’s son with the fragments of the boulder. Thus fulfilling the oath of the king.

 

Rav Chaim Stein brought out the message of the Medrash.  The king loved his son dearly. The punishment was never the desired result. The threat of punishment was only meant as a deterrent. The sought after goal of the king is that the son should recognize his authority, that the son should realize that it is in his best interests to follow the dictates of the king. The punishment is only the means to the end. Had the king truly wished to punish his son, the boulder in its entirety would have been cast upon his son.

 

But this was not the wish of the king.

 

Rav Chaim continued: But isn’t the splitting and shattering of the stone a poor substitute for the intended punishment? Though technically the king managed to fulfill his vow according to the letter of the law, but is this really what he had in mind?

 

The answer is, “Yes”. He never intended to kill hi son with the boulder. He intended a lesson to penetrate. Which lesson? The all-important one, that there is no life to one who does not adhere to the wishes of the king. Although the son avoided being killed by the boulder, but instead, he was pelted with thousands of fragments. When each and every one of the fragments made contact, he was reminded anew that his life should have been forfeit. He was reminded of the love that his father, the king, has for him. He was made starkly aware of the wisdom of his father. The goal was achieved without having to resort to the punishment. The king’s wish is life. Flouting his will is death. One does not have to actually die in order to learn this.

 

This what Moshe Rabeinu had in mind. He was revealing to the Jewish nation the true intent behind the curses of the previous parshah. The pronouncement of the curses is intended to imbue us with the lesson that separating from our connection with G-d is separating from life itself. One who does so is cursed. The curses are not the intended goal. The intent of G-d is that we should forge an unbreakable loving bond with him. Even when we lapse, and challenge that bond, G-d has ways of both keeping “his word” and preserving us, so that we can survive to learn our lesson.

 

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